Secretary of Defense lifts ban on female soldiers in combat.
The Pentagon has thrown out a rule that's been in force since the mid 1990s, ending the ban on women serving in U.S. military combat units.
The change will open more than 200,000 combat jobs that had been available only to men.
No changes will be made in toughness or strength standards for women.
"If they can meet the qualifications for the job then they should have the right to serve," said Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.
Panetta pointed out 150 women have been killed in combat serving in Iraq and Afghanistan with men.
"They're fighting and dying together, and the time has come for our policies to recognize that reality," the secretary noted.
Women can move immediately to medium sized combat brigades as pilots, medics and the like.
Small front line combat platoons will not be open to women until commanders can propose specific units that might remain men-only, like the Navy SEALs or Delta Force commandos.
Retired Lt. General Jerry Boykin of the Family Research Council says all front line units should remain closed to women.
"My concern is that the primal living conditions, the rudimentary environments that they're in provides for no separation between sexes, and therefore puts both men and women in very humiliating situations. I've been there. I know what I'm talking about," he says.
Army Reserve Staff Sergeant Jennifer Hunt, whose Humvee was blown up in Iraq, sued the Army to end gender discrimination.
"There's a large body of science out there showing unit cohesion is task-based, and it's based on people being different and bringing their own experiences to the team and not everybody being the same," she says.
It could be 2016 before women know what front line combat units, if any, will be open to them.